In Nepal, nearly 90% of energy consumed comes from traditional biomass fuels such as firewood, agro-waste such corn stalk and rice chaff or cattle dung cakes dried by the sun. Lack of access to modern energy has significant implications for economic development, rural livelihoods, environmental sustainability in addition to social dignity & health. In many remote areas of Nepal, providing energy for the most basic of needs such as cooking and lighting is still a major challenge for the rural poor. This dependency on firewood and other agro-waste not only has significant environmental implications such as deforestation, but also has serious health impacts through the exposure to high levels of indoor air pollution.
With more than 80% of people surviving on subsistence agricultural, Nepal has benefited from the development of the domestic biogas sector. Biogas plants produce methane from the breakdown of organic material in a process known as anaerobic digestion. The feedstock can include vegetable and food waste, agricultural residues, animal manure and even human extreta and therefore can be a useful and effective waste management process. In addition to biogas, anaerobic digesters (AD) also produce an organic fertiliser that can be used on agricultural farmland. The Nepali biogas sector is often hailed as an international success story, however, it is thought that less than 10% of the total biogas potential has been realised. One of the key challenges is the environmental conditions of many regions of Nepal, where low temperatures reduce the efficiency of biogas production. In addition, over 75% of Nepal is at an altitude of 610m or above meaning access and implementation is difficult.
The potential benefits of these small-scale anaerobic digesters (ADs) are three-fold; they provide a clean, cheap alternative fuel; they produce a marketable biofertiliser; and they reduce gender divisions of labour by reducing the need for women and children to collect fuel wood. Despite the potential of this underutilised technology to reduce poverty by improving energy access, reduce waste, improve health and facilitate more sustainable livelihoods, there are significant social, cultural and technological challenges facing the use of biogas at remote, high altitude areas.
The overarching aim of this studentship will be to quantify and enhance the role of domestic AD systems for improving sustainable rural futures in remote, high altitude areas of Nepal by, (i) increasing rural household energy security (ii) improving resource use and waste management (iii) increasing food security and sustainable livelihoods by producing a product that is safe to use as a soil amendment in agronomic systems and (iv) improving health through the use of cleaner cooking fuel. Central to this project will be an evaluation of the social and cultural challenges in maintaining the long-term sustainability of biogas technology.